Olympics-Boxing-World champ Petecio takes step toward maiden women's gold

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Boxing - Women's Featherweight - Last 32 - Kokugikan Arena - Tokyo, Japan - July 24, 2021. Nesthy Petecio of the Philippines in action against Matshu Marcela Sakobi of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Pool via REUTERS/Frank Franklin II

TOKYO (Reuters) - Reigning world champion Nesthy Petecio of the Philippines took a first step towards maiden Olympic gold in women's featherweight boxing on Saturday, with a unanimous decision over Marcelat Sakobi Matshu of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The 29-year-old Petecio is tipped as a strong contender for the first gold in the women's featherweight class, which along with women's welterweight, is making its debut at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Philippines has never won an Olympic gold medal in any sport. Petecio delivered a convincing show against Matshu as boxing preliminaries kicked off in a near empty Kokugikan Arena, the 7,300-seat Tokyo stadium usually home to sumo wrestling.

The addition of women's weight classes was a welcome sign of more gender equality in boxing, said American featherweight Yarisel Ramirez, who lost her preliminary to Croatia's Nikolina Cacic.

"The equality between both male and female has come a long way," Ramirez said. "More women can compete now and yeah, I'm thankful for whoever went out there and pushed it through and made it happen."

The 21-year-old, Cuban-born Ramirez came back after losing her first round to win the second and take the bout to a deciding round. But she said she was a "a bit surprised" by the judges' decision.

"Obviously, the judges didn't see it my way," she said.

Transparency and gender equality are the highlights for boxing at the Tokyo Olympics as the sport aims to turn the page on the acrimonious 2016 Games which was marred by persistent disputes over judging quality.

In the featherweight men's preliminaries, Ireland's Kurt Walker overcame a cut above his right eye and a difficult second round to take a unanimous decision over Spaniard Jose Quiles Brotons.

The Irishman is due to fight top seed Mirazizbek Mirzakhalilov of Uzbekistan in the next round.

"He's got two arms and two legs like myself so it doesn't bother me," Walker said about the 26-year-old world champion. "If you want to be the best then you have to beat the best."

(Reporting by David Dolan; Editing by Nick Mulvenney and Stephen Coates)

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